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Serena Fischer

Lawmakers OK Bills To Expand Access to CBD, THC-A Oils

By Serena Fischer and Ben Burstein, Capital News Service

RICHMOND -- In the final weeks of its 2019 session, the General Assembly passed three bills that would help people using cannabis-derived medications.

On Saturday, the House and Senate gave final approval to a bill allowing students who have proper documentation to use CBD oil and THC-A oil at school.

SB 1632, sponsored by Sen. Glen Sturtevant, R-Richmond, would prohibit schools from suspending or expelling a student for using CBD or THC-A oil with valid permission. The bill also would protect school nurses from prosecution of possessing and distributing the oils in accordance with school board policy.

Earlier in the month, legislators passed:

  • SB 1557, introduced by Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant, R-Henrico. It would allow physician assistants and licensed nurse practitioners to write a certification for cannabidiol oil and THC-A oil.

  • SB 1719, filed by Sen. David Marsden, D-Fairfax. It would allow patients receiving CBD or THC-A oil to designate a registered agent to pick up the medication on their behalf.

Dunnavant, the only physician in the Virginia Senate, has been an advocate for expanding access to medical cannabis.

“Allowing nurse practitioners to make treatment available will shorten the wait time and suffering for patients dealing with pain,” Dunnavant stated in support of SB 1557. “It is an effective way for physicians to offer low-cost and low risk remedies to their patients.”

Dunnavant hopes that expanding the use of cannabis-derived medications will help combat the growing opioid crisis.

“Overdose deaths related to prescribed opiates have decreased by 25 percent in states where medical marijuana programs are available. The potential side effects and risks of medically administered CBD and THC-A are far lower than opiates and many pharmaceutical drugs currently requiring a doctor’s prescription,” Dunnavant’s website states.

CBD, or cannabidiol, and THC-A, or tetrahydrocannabinolic acid, are two of the main compounds in the cannabis sativa plant.

Both components interact with cannabinoid receptors in the body that affect mood, pain, and memory. Neither contain the properties that produce a high. When raw, TCH-A has no psychoactive effects; only when burned does it become THC. Hemp, also a cannabis plant, is more widely used for CBD oil for its very low level of THC.

CBD and THC-A oils are used by many people to treat anxiety, migraines, nausea and other health problems. THC-A oils can achieve the same results as CBD oil but are less potent.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not endorse any CBD or THC-A medication with the exception of Epidiolex, used to treat seizures from two rare forms of epilepsy. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration says it will support further research by the FDA into different components of cannabis.

“DEA will continue to support sound and scientific research that promotes legitimate therapeutic uses for FDA-approved constituent components of cannabis, consistent with federal law,” said Acting DEA Administrator Uttam Dhillon in a press release.

Virginia has moved slowly in allowing access to medical cannabis.

In 2015, the General Assembly passed legislation allowing CBD and THC-A oils only for the treatment of intractable epilepsy. Last year, lawmakers passed a bill sponsored by Dunnavant authorizing medical practitioners to recommend the oils to treat or ease the symptoms of any diagnosed disease or condition.

By expanding the definition of practitioner to include nurses, SB 1557 would make it even easier for Virginians to use the medical treatment.

“Expanding the availability of effective treatment options is both compassionate and practical,” Dunnavant said.

Virginia Moves to Raise Age to Buy Tobacco Products

By Serena Fischer, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — Legislation making its way through the General Assembly would raise the legal age for purchasing and possessing tobacco and vaping products from 18 to 21, drawing mixed reactions from young adults who would be affected by the new law.

The House and Senate have passed similar bills to increase the age to buy or possess products containing tobacco or nicotine. Each chamber is now working on the other’s measure.

In the state that gave birth to the tobacco industry, not everybody is happy about the legislation. William Bechtle, a 20-year-old computer science major at Virginia Commonwealth University, believes it would infringe on people’s rights.

“If an 18-year-old who is legally an adult wants to make the horrible choice to start smoking, they have that right,” said Bechtle, who smokes cigarettes. “If they don’t, then why is the age of adulthood 18 and not 21?”

Other young smokers do not seem to view the bills as a threat — only as an inconvenience.

“I can get older friends, people at that age limit, to get it for me,” said Katie Breighner, a freshman at Centreville High School in Fairfax County. “Regardless of your age, someone can find a way to get it.”

Some lawmakers also oppose the proposals to raise the smoking age — but apparently not enough to derail the legislation.

On Tuesday, the House voted 67-31 in favor of its bill, HB 2748. That measure has been referred to the Senate Courts of Justice Committee.

The Senate passed its bill, SB 1727, on a 32-8 vote on Jan. 29. On Wednesday, the House Courts of Justice Committee approved that measure, 9-6, and sent it to the full House for consideration.

If the legislation becomes law, Virginia would join six other states in raising the tobacco purchase age to 21.

The Senate bill was sponsored by Sen. Thomas Norment, R-James City. Thirteen Republicans and all 19 Democrats in the Senate supported the measure; eight Republican senators opposed it.

The House bill was introduced by Del. Christopher P. Stolle, R-Virginia Beach. Forty-six Democrats and 21 Republicans voted in favor of the bill, while 29 Republican delegates and two Democratic delegates voted against it.

Among the opponents was Del. Mark Cole, R-Spotsylvania.

“I have no problem with raising the age to purchase tobacco products up to 21, but I think it should be done in a step process, because there are, whether we like it or not, 18-, 19-, 20-year-olds who are using these products now,” Cole said. “While I applaud the intent of this legislation, I think it has problems.”

The legislation targets all tobacco and nicotine products, not just cigarettes. A primary goal is to combat the recent trend of teen vaping, which the U.S. surgeon general has called an “epidemic.”

The number of teens who have vaped in the past 30 days has almost doubled since 2017, including children as young as eighth grade. While some may argue that vaping is healthier than smoking cigarettes, many are unaware that one Juul pod (a popular method of vaping) contains as much nicotine as 20 cigarettes.

That’s why students like Reem Alul view the legislation before the General Assembly as a sign of progress. Alul, a biology major at VCU, hopes new laws will help curb youth addiction to nicotine.

“As someone who’s been smoking for over a year now, I know how addictive and toxic nicotine is to my quality of life,” Alul said. “Although minors will still have access to these products, it’ll be much harder to get a hold of it on short notice.”

How they voted

Here is how the House voted Tuesday on HB 2748 (Tobacco products, nicotine vapor products, etc.; purchase, possession, and sale).

Floor: 02/05/19 House: VOTE: PASSAGE (67-Y 31-N 1-A)

YEAS — Adams, D.M., Aird, Austin, Ayala, Bagby, Bell, John J., Bourne, Carr, Carroll Foy, Convirs-Fowler, Davis, Delaney, Filler-Corn, Fowler, Garrett, Gooditis, Guzman, Hayes, Helsel, Heretick, Herring, Hodges, Hope, Hugo, Hurst, Ingram, James, Jones, J.C., Jones, S.C., Keam, Knight, Kory, Krizek, Landes, Leftwich, Levine, Lindsey, Lopez, Marshall, McQuinn, Miyares, Mullin, Murphy, Orrock, Peace, Plum, Pogge, Price, Rasoul, Reid, Robinson, Rodman, Roem, Sickles, Simon, Stolle, Sullivan, Torian, Toscano, Tran, Turpin, Tyler, VanValkenburg, Ward, Watts, Yancey, Mr. Speaker — 67.

NAYS — Adams, L.R., Bell, Richard P., Bell, Robert B., Bloxom, Brewer, Bulova, Byron, Campbell, J.L., Campbell, R.R., Carter, Cole, Edmunds, Fariss, Freitas, Gilbert, Head, Kilgore, LaRock, McGuire, McNamara, Morefield, O'Quinn, Pillion, Poindexter, Ransone, Rush, Thomas, Ware, Webert, Wilt, Wright — 31.

ABSTENTIONS — Collins — 1.

Here is how the Senate voted on Jan. 29 on SB 1727 (Tobacco products, nicotine vapor products, etc.; purchase, possession, and sale).

Floor: 01/29/19 Senate: Read third time and passed Senate (32-Y 8-N)

YEAS — Barker, Black, Boysko, Chafin, Cosgrove, Dance, Deeds, Dunnavant, Ebbin, Edwards, Favola, Hanger, Howell, Lewis, Locke, Lucas, Marsden, Mason, McClellan, McPike, Newman, Norment, Obenshain, Petersen, Reeves, Ruff, Saslaw, Spruill, Sturtevant, Surovell, Vogel, Wagner — 32.

NAYS — Carrico, Chase, DeSteph, McDougle, Peake, Stanley, Stuart, Suetterlein — 8.

Here is the House Courts of Justice Committee voted Wednesday on SB 1727 (Tobacco products, nicotine vapor products, etc.; purchase, possession, and sale).

02/06/19 House: Reported from Courts of Justice with substitute (9-Y 6-N)

YEAS — Leftwich, Miyares, Watts, Toscano, Herring, Mullin, Bourne, Simon, Carroll Foy — 9.

NAYS — Bell, Robert B., Gilbert, Adams, L.R., Campbell, J.L., Ransone, Campbell, R.R. — 6.

ABSTENTIONS — Collins — 1.

NOT VOTING — Kilgore, Hope — 2.

Senate Panel Rejects Ban on Offshore Oil Drilling

By Serena Fischer, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — A bipartisan bill to ban oil drilling off Virginia’s coast was shot down on a 9-6 vote in a Senate committee Thursday.

The Senate Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources killed SB 1573, which sought to prohibit permits for oil and gas exploration or drilling “in the beds of any waters of the Commonwealth.”

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Bill DeSteph, R-Virginia Beach, also would have repealed a section of the Code of Virginia that supports federal efforts for natural gas exploration up to 50 miles offshore. Current law allows for the authorization of oil and gas leases on state-owned bottomlands (subaqueous lands within three miles of the shore).

“We rely on having clean beaches,” DeSteph said.

The bill was co-sponsored by two Democrats — Sens. Monty Mason of Williamsburg and Lionell Spruill Sr. of Chesapeake.

DeSteph and several speakers, including small-business owners and environmental lobbyists, said offshore drilling impacts more than just Virginia’s wildlife. They said Virginia Beach’s two biggest industries, tourism and the military, could be threatened by pollution and unsightly oil rigs.

Virginia Beach hotel owner Diana Burke said offshore drilling could hurt her business.

Groups such as the Virginia Petroleum Council and the Virginia Chamber of Commerce voiced opposition to DeSteph’s bill.

A spokesperson for the petroleum group called the legislation “premature” and suggested that state officials “wait until more information can be gathered.”

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